National Historic Site
A Regional Legacy
Cochise. Geronimo. Though their reputations were fierce, the Chiricahua Apaches didn't stop explorers, prospectors, settlers, and merchants from Westward immigration. To establish a lifeline between the East and California, the Butterfield Overland Trail was built in 1858, directly through the heart of Apache Pass. But as the Apaches' land and lifestyle became threatened, they retaliated with attacks on traveling parties and raids on settlements.
The Bascom Affair, a military fiasco in early 1861, escalated hostilities on both sides. In 1862, a Union Army regiment from California marched through Apache Pass to counter the Confederate invasions of New Mexico. After being ambushed near Apache Spring, the army established Fort Bowie to protect the water supply and the major southern transportation route.
For the next 24 years, soldiers relentlessly pursued the elusive Apache. With Cochise's death (by natural causes) in 1874 any hope of peace was lost. Government promises were broken. Discontent rose among Apaches, causing violent uprisings and escapes from bleak reservations. It took two competent army commanders—General George Crook and Nelson Miles—and several thousand troops to obtain the final Chiricahuas Apache surrender in 1886. Geronimo and his dwindling band of Chiricahuas marched in defeat to Fort Bowie, on their journey into permanent exile. The Apache Wars were over.
Fort Bowie was not abandoned until 1894. Today the weathered adobe and masonry walls are all that remain, the last vestige of an often romanticized but always precarious chapter in our country's history.